Health Highlights: June 4, 2018

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

American Seniors Facing Higher Out-of-Pocket Costs for Brand-Name Drugs

American seniors are filling fewer prescriptions for expensive brand-name drugs but are still spending more on such drugs, says a federal government study that points the finger at rising prices from drug makers.

There was a 17 percent decrease in the overall number of prescriptions for brand-name medications under Medicare’s “Part D” drug program between 2011 and 2015, according to the Health and Human Services inspector general’s office, the Associated Press reported.

However, Medicare beneficiaries’ share of costs for brand-name drugs rose 40 percent during that time, from $161 to $225 a year on average.

“Increases in unit prices for brand-name drugs resulted in Medicare and its beneficiaries paying more for these drugs,” and rising Medicare payments for brand-name drugs “will continue to affect Part D and its beneficiaries for years to come,” according to the study, the AP reported.

While extremely expensive drugs attract the most attention, the main problem for Medicare beneficiaries is the high cost of maintenance medications for common long-term health problems such as diabetes, the study said.

It found that total out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries were highest for brand-name insulin, cholesterol drugs and asthma inhalers.

Drug makers say their prices reflect the demands of developing and getting approval for new drugs, which can take years of research and testing, the AP reported.


Outbreak of Deadly Brain-Damaging Virus In India: WHO

There is an outbreak of a rare, deadly brain-damaging virus in India, the World Health Organization says.

At least 18 people have been infected in the outbreak of Nipah virus in the state of Kerala, and 17 of those patients have died, The New York Times reported.

The virus naturally occurs in fruit bats across South and Southeast Asia, and can spread to humans through contact with the bats’ bodily fluids. There is no vaccine and no cure.

The virus is considered a possible epidemic threat and is listed by the WHO as a high priority for research, The Times reported.

Despite the danger posed by the virus, little is being done to find ways to fight it, experts warn.

“There’s a market failure for protecting people from this,” Dr. Steve Luby, an epidemiologist at Stanford University, told The Times. “It’s not like treating baldness or breast cancer, where wealthy people will pay for your product. There’s no big customer here, no incentive, until it escalates.”